Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Laon Cathedral, France (begun 1160 AD)

Laon Cathedral, France
(begun 1160 AD)

Where is Laon?

In 1100 AD, Laon was a very rich town in northern France, with strong walls and a lot of farmland. It’s on top of a high hill, so Laon (pronounced LON but you can just barely hear the N) was pretty much safe from enemies.

More medieval cathedrals
More medieval architecture
France under the Capetians
All our Medieval Europe articles

Why did they kill their bishop?

The king of France had put Laon under the rule of a bishop, Bishop Gaudry, but the people of Laon wanted to be independent and rule themselves.

What is a bishop?

In 1112 the people of Laon revolted. They killed Bishop Gaudry and some of his friends.

Why did Laon need a new cathedral?

While they were at it, the rebels burned down the bishop’s palace and (perhaps accidentally) also the cathedral. So Laon needed a new cathedral. It took a while to get around to it, but finally in 1160 the Christian people of Laon began building the choir (the apse) of the new church. A hundred years had gone by since Matilda built the Abbaye aux Dames in Caen, and people were richer, so the architect at Laon was able to build a bigger and more impressive church. At Laon, the roof was 78 feet high.

What’s the Abbaye aux Dames?
What’s an apse?

Laon and the new Gothic style

Nave of Laon Cathedral

Nave of Laon Cathedral

Laon was one of the first cathedrals built in the new Gothic style, with pointed arches showing you the way up to Heaven. Like the Abbaye aux Dames, Laon had a flat end in the apse, and a six-part groin vault for the stone roof. The roof was a little higher than at the Abbaye aux Dames, held up by big stone buttresses leaning against the outside walls.

What’s a groin vault?
What’s a buttress?
Early Gothic architecture

On the walls, there were first low arches with thick columns, then a gallery and above that a second gallery, and at the top small clerestory windows (windows higher than the aisles).

Did Laon get to be independent?

The fighting between the people and the bishop continued for the next hundred years, with the king taking first one side and then the other, until 1239, when the people of Laon won their freedom.

Why isn’t Laon a cathedral anymore?

But later on, Laon became a smaller, less important town. After the French Revolution, the town was too small to have its own bishop. But without a bishop, a church isn’t a cathedral. So although the same building is still there, today it is only a church and not technically a cathedral anymore.

Learn by doing: build an arch
More about cathedrals

Bibliography and further reading about cathedrals:

More medieval architecture
More about the Middle Ages home